Chapter 162 - Tritulating

Chapter 162 - Tritulating

Mage Fredon is patient. The apathy natural to all mages of the earth has served him well his entire life. Using it in combination with the empathic and trustworthy aspects of the lighter side of earth mana has allowed him to learn about and then climb the true ranks of mage-dom.

His younger days were filled with the usual mage activities, geared toward amassing and controlling as much mana as possible. Some things stood out to the silent man - a child from a large commoner family that had the luck to get tested - and he took notice.

He enthusiastically learned and practised from apprentice to journeymage. The fact that master mages all disappeared for weeks on end clued him in that something was wrong with the entire system. The amount of young mages is truly large. The mage towers where recruits are tortured under the guise of learning emotional control are always full, as well as the lecture halls on the mage islands themselves.

But the number of powerful mages was truly too small for the mass of recruits. He heard of mages dying now and then, life at sea is inherently dangerous and accidents happen, but not enough to explain the disappearing high-level powerhouses. Fredon read through any record he could find, scouring all the known libraries and administration archives he could get access to.

Mage Fredon is proud of his ability to read between the lines, and thus decided to stop gathering more and more power, shifting his efforts to control instead of raw force. And that’s how he was inducted to the actual ruling class. Another mage that had seemingly stopped growing - labelled a talentless hack by all - introduced him to the council.

Fredon learned of the formations that power each island’s single-type-mana attractor field. He learned of the steady stream of crystallised skulls needed to power these devices. His morals rebelled at the human sacrifices required, but this too was explained to him. The only way the mages can remain diverse and strong is when the usual competition is backed by an unbeatable home field advantage. Only when attacking the base of other mages is tantamount to suicide can a stalemate be achieved.

He learned of the mana stones all mages develop, how overuse of mana crystallises parts of the brain. He also learned of the lifespan mages have. A master mage without a crystal can live up to be three hundred, his fellow shadow council members enough proof of this fact. Overuse of mana - as encouraged by the entire mage schooling system - will guarantee the forming of a crystal seed in the brain. The mage’s days are numbered at that point, as the crystal overtakes brain tissue even when no magic is being cast.

Terrified of the headaches that were a sure sign of initial crystallisation, Fredon only practised mana control with low amounts of power. That’s how he took notice of Valerius, the only mage he has ever met that has more fine control over earth and stone than him. Happily steering mage society from the shadows, he spent his days in obscurity.

But on a totally normal quarterly trip to the Mana Dungeon, all kinds of things started going wrong. Fine control comes with fine senses, and the waves of mana disturbances went unnoticed by all the soon-to-be-crystal mages. The usually gently flowing mana currents got tossed around, shockwaves of large scale mana disturbances reaching the gathered shadow council.

Then Absence Island, the home of the darkness mages, just vanished. Those bored and uncertain nerds didn’t really add a lot to mage-dom in general, but they made most of the less than legal mana-enriched drugs. The island disappearing also made a quarter of the total financial mage income disappear. All that money was usually spent supplying the creeps with slaves, but the simple fact that an entire island could vanish was the council’s worst nightmare.

Then things got worse when a completely unknown force invaded the Mana dungeon and somehow rendezvoused with a being in the guise of the Smiling Immortal. Reports about some of the group’s individuals being recognised cast light upon bureaucratic corruption. Entire cadres of mages had failed to report relevant information, such as a group of unknowns rampaging and easily overpowering low-ranked mages in Tower City. This lack of oversight only added to the confusion.

Then reports about collapsing Islands reached him. The collapse of his own home, Strata’s Eternal Tower, crumbling into dust sent him in a manic fit of hysterical panic. Disintegration’s volcanic explosion could have been an accident, but news of the systematic destruction of all the islands was enough to recall every single mage and declare a state of emergency.

A good thing too. The first sign of trouble came from mage delver parties that reported strange happenings in the Dungeon. Having all the mages crowded on top of the large sphere was problematic, so most combat capable mages went Dungeon delving. Until the Dungeon mobs started walking upwards, killing many a mage unprepared for the suddenly much more powerful enemies.

So Strata and all the earth mages got assigned to construction, rapidly creating new habitats for all the stuck-up mages. The earth mages themselves were the most vocal complainers. Understandable if you went from a pampered lifestyle to being forced to dredge up mud and moulding it into a growing jungle of buildings. And then half of it got wiped away by a slowly growing tide of giant sea creatures attacking them.

So even though mage Fredon sees himself as a patient man, the current shitstorm has his nerves frayed and his reserves of patience drained. And then Fredon does not even take into account the dwindling food stocks and the disappearance of the largest source of mana crystals. The food can be mitigated by the nature mages, but the lack of mana stones will hurt all mages in the long run. Natural mana levels are not high enough to cause the crystallisation process. Sitting in his private room, the bedraggled mage goes through the numbers one more time.

Rubbing his eyes does not change his conclusion, no matter how much he wishes for it. He has enough awareness of his own situation to realise he is one of the better-off mages.

The fact that the old earth mage Tonn Vink was the man in charge of the Mana Dungeon when the general recall began is something Fredon is extremely thankful for. Having gained the knowledge that a part of his mind would be literally set in stone - or to be precise, crystal - Fredon had made himself an indispensable confidante to the up-and-coming magus. He’d even stood guard as Tonn went through the month-long paralysing headaches that come with the initial crystallisation. The solidification of his role as a trustworthy person has been extremely useful so far.

That’s the only reason Fredon and his fellow council members aren't scraping and scavenging for food and bunking with the rest of the low ranked mages. It’s also the reason why he’s alone in a rather spacious room with large windows. His current quarters are directly above the old coot’s, having convinced the half-senile codger that the top floor of the tower is just storage space instead of his lavish living quarters.

The powerful mages are all completely predictable in their behaviour and thus easily manipulated. Their unchanging personalities do have drawbacks though. The entire mage society is much more prone to breaking and shattering than bending. This has forced him and the rest of the true rulers to run around putting out fires, in a desperate attempt to keep the system going.

He’s about to recheck the casualty reports when a sudden thump from above saves him from those depressing numbers. The entire tower is hastily built, and there are no ways to walk on the roof. Wondering if an air-mage has made an emergency landing for some reason, he stands up and walks to the small balcony he made himself.

“Get out here now, maybe she’ll listen to another female...” The strained voice of an unfamiliar man reaches his ears. Fredon scurries back into his chambers, frantically and silently searching for something to stand on. He has managed to drag a small table to the balcony, and is about to stand on the rickety piece of furniture when he suddenly remembers where he has heard that voice before.

That's the bearded man that kissed the Dungeon damned Smiling Immortal! None of his fellow council members remembers much about that event, and Fredon suspects that some form of amnesiac was applied to them all. Why only he has his full memories is another mystery that has been hounding the beleaguered man.

With shaky knees, he manages to stand on the table and peer over the edge of the roof. That same man - tall and thin, with simple clothes and a beard - is looking at the mass of mutants at the base of the dungeon. The man then looks upwards, and the spying mage nearly falls from the table and the tower entirely as he spots a dragon circling nearby.

“One moment, ya maniac! She’s nearly here!” shouts the man through cupped hands. The dragon, bizarrely enough, seems to nod its head before flapping its wings lazily. Then a blue haired girl pops into existence next to the man.

“Hey, Selis. Please stop those waves. I could do it, but that’d take a lot of my power. Thanks.”

The subsequent thunderous attack on the sea by the dragon through the medium of a massive giant mouth-beam and the calming of the waves by the small blue girl has Fredon convinced that these maniacs are to be blamed for all the shit he has been going through.

The anger in his gut develops until the dragon has made a full circle. Nearly all the mutants in a few hundred-meter radius are red clouds in the tumultuous water, but Fredon is now so angry he starts seeing green.

“You… you, you, you absolute villains!” Words flow from his mouth as he starts ranting, He barely notices that he has climbed up on the roof and has started stomping towards the bearded man. “YOU ABSOLUTE MANIAC! Sending out waves of mana wasn’t enough, no. You people, because I’m sure it’s you guys’ fault, had to mess with the Tower, beat up my mages, destroy Absence and TOPPLE ALL WE HAVE BUILT!”

Furiously waving a finger in the face of the cretin, he continues ranting, spraying the taller man’s face with spittle. The man holds out for half a minute. He then frowns, and Fredon’s world crumbles.

The little guy shouting in my face was pretty funny, I have to admit. I’m amused until the little shit starts spitting in my face. I imagine killing him in a couple thousand ways, change a small bit of qi to that intent and let it waft over the yelling guy. Seeing him shut up and keel over is almost worth the saliva on my face.

Also, that guy was blocking my sight on the newest development. An area of sea ten kilometres away and a kilometre in diameter rises up, a bulging mountain of water that slowly sluices off of a truly horrendous monster.

The first thing to poke through the mountain of water is a rather impressive amount of teeth. What follows next is a complex collection of feelers, scaled tentacles and hanging teeth-filled jaw sections. Like a mutated bobbit worm crossed with a lamprey eel’s mouth. Congratulations, that one transformation that Rhea practised a few days back, you are no longer the most disgusting thing I've ever seen.

The worm rises further, dark and oily substances dripping from many of the twitching and folding barbed jaws. Its head is three hundred meters wide and the supporting body - segmented and with small legs making squirming rows on both sides - is growing wider even though a full kilometre is already sticking up out of the ocean.

I notice that I’m clenching my sword’s handle with a death grip. Also, I would like to apologise to all the spiders I have been afraid of before. I now recognise that all spiders are beautiful, and that arachnid lives matter.

But seriously, I feel the sudden need to kill that thing with sufficient quantities of fire to turn the seabed into glass. So I will.

A bright shining light distracts me from my horrified staring, and I sense Rhea touch down next to me. I briefly wonder where Lola has gone, but an ice crystal blooming on the roaring worm monsters side tells me that Lola is doing some high power kicking practice.

“Why are we here again? Just for more energy?” asks Rhea while breathing hard.

“Well… I want to run some more experiments with partially crystallised brains. Danarius isn’t doing anything interesting, and the other crystal heads are still boycotting Database while staying on the moon. That, and I thought it might be good practice for you to coordinate a large scale battle. And yes, we need more energy. You, Lola and me stepping into our foundation is literally sucking Tree dry. Why did you think I kept all of us outside Tree?” I have to do some mental searching before remembering why I wanted to come here again.

“Good. There’s more on the way. Those guys are somehow similar to the ones we fought on the other continent.” Rhea points towards the west, where more large shapes are moving under the water.

“Those guys are early. Good thing you raised the jib. I think that they did indeed swim across the sea.” I give her a peck on the cheek and am about to run off.

“Wait! Why are you doing all this, I don’t understand.” A faint voice comes from where the uppity mage is still cowering on the tower’s roof. My version of killing intent seems to have left him partially paralysed.

“Well… This planet is too much of a dump for me to want to spend an eternity here. It’s just that I might have tripped some alarms in my haste. Nothing serious, believe me.” I swing my sword low and keep it behind me.

“Nothing serious? Millenia of tradition, priceless artefacts, and knowledge. All gone. And it’s nothing much?” the man asks in a despairing kind of outrage.

“Right, millennia and all you managed to make was a self-cannibalising system that preys on the talented and powerless? I’d happily topple a thousand dynasties this foul and exploitative if it means a small chance for the good people to advance.” Knowing that there can be no discussion until one of us is willing to change, I walk to the edge.

“Hey, you’re the guy that Valerius was following.” Rhea starts talking with the guy for some reason.

“Val? Is he still alive? Who are you?”

“Yeah. Best farmer I’ve ever seen. I spend a few decades in the beastkin lands, and even those horned long ears don’t have his affinity for plants and soil. And I was the Smiling Immortal a while ago.” Rhea actually sounds proud…

“A farmer? What?”

I don’t hear the rest of their conversation as I jump off the tower, using the air around me to pull myself forward instead of kicking off the rather weak structure. I think I will use this opportunity to train my heartcore some more. I need to work on letting my braincore come up with the plans without having to spend subjective years in combat mode. A person can change when faced with years of solitude, not something I’m keen on doing anymore now that I’ve got people around me.

I glide through the air in a gentle arc and kick off against the red sea at the end of my graceful fall. I see Selis hurrying over, an excited expression on her face.

I spin and look backwards. Selis nearly stumbles as the shockwave of steam, water and air I left behind knocks into her. She then explodes into blue light and forces the sea back down. I think she will grasp a concept of change when stepping into her own foundation. I wave at her when she looks at me, and she nods at me in return.

My rotational momentum turns me forward again, just in time for me to see a gaping maw filled with tentacles and wiggling teeth opening up in front of me. The abyss is hundreds of meters wide, and I see blue ice crystals poking from the undulating mass here and there. White, frozen flesh around the impact sites tells me that Lola is still actively cooling the shards.

I have just enough time to hear Lola squeal at me when the mouth closes around me.

Okay, I know that I want to train my heartcore, but shouldn’t I have made at least some sort of plan? From the look of things, this big boy is just the first wave.

Ah well. Let’s try cutting loose for once instead of painstakingly planning every minuscule detail in advance.

“I’m a dragon though. Look, I can transform.” Re-Haan holds out a glowing hand.

Still sitting on the roof, Fredon stares at the fine scales that cover the pretty women’s hand. “Any Wave mage specialising in light instead of healing can do illusions.”

“She’s really a dragon though,” says the blue haired girl that just landed on the tower’s roof. “Re, what’s that breath beam thing. That was super awesome. It makes too many waves though. I wonder what it would do on land?”

“All dragons have a natural breath weapon. I upgraded it a bit. I concentrated structural qi along my dragon form’s lungs and breath-attack organ. It transformed a devastating wind attack into a beam that can vaporise stone, as you saw.”

“Super cool! Miss Re, that was really super cool!” Selis fangirls hard while Re-Haan has her chest and nose sticking up into the air.

“Madness, these people are insane,” whispers Fredon to himself. Then the gargantuan worm thing sticking up from the ocean he just managed to forget explodes in a massive fireball and hell truly breaks loose.

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